The patient lives again! — Two Point Hospital hands-on preview

Hello!  I’m required by law (and several malpractice lawsuit settlements) to remind you that I am not a doctor.  I don’t even play one on TV. Recently I got to hang up my lab coat and instead become the architect of a brand new hospital in Two Point County — a lovely place filled with bizarre illnesses and people with loose cash who desire to be cured in unconventional ways.  All the County needed was a facility to make it happen. As the new architect and Director of Two Point Hospital, it’s my responsibility…nay…privilege to get very, very rich off the very, very sick.

If you were a gamer in 1997, you might recall an amazing company called Bullfrog Productions.  They made phenomenal sims, defining an entirely new genre — “god games”. Titles like Populous, Powermonger, Syndicate, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper (1 and 2), and one of my personal favorites — Theme Hospital.  As you might guess from the name, Theme Hospital put you in charge of a fictitious medical facility of your own design. Theme Hospital was brilliant, and like their latter work on games like The Movies and Black & White, it was light years ahead of its time.  Well, unfortunately, Bullfrog and Lionhead both were swallowed by the gaping maw that is Electronic Arts, and any designs on sequels for those properties died out.

Until now.

Mark Webley and Gary Carr (both veterans of the aforementioned studios and properties) have joined with Ben Hymers (he worked on Viva Pinata and Alien: Isolation, as a sample) and several more Lionhead / Bullfrog / Mucky Foot alumni (e.g. Russell Shaw, Ben Huskins, Marc Smart) to form Two Point Studios.  Their first project, with some publishing help by Sega Europe, will be Two Point Hospital — the spiritual successor to Theme Hospital. I’ve recently spent several hours with the team and their game, and I’m very happy to say that we are in for a rare treat where the sequel may just be better than the original.

You’ll have to build a whole host of facilities to cure these unique diseases.

“The hospital is not responsible for any instance of unwanted death”

The demo, thankfully, was not a special “vertical slice” of the game.  Instead, it provided a blank canvas at the beginning of the game and turned us loose to our own devices. Outside of Sega, this was the first time anyone had played the game beyond the development team.  Those of you who whiled away entirely too many hours manning the “inflator room” in Theme Hospital will recognize some familiar beats, and those of you who missed out might just begin to see why I’m so excited.

The primary pillars of gameplay for Two Point Hospital are simple: design stunning hospitals, cure unusual illnesses, manage staff and improve facilities, and then expand into other hospitals to create an entire healthcare empire in Two Point County.  In this demo we saw three hospitals on the map, Lower Bullocks, Flottering, and Hogsport, though the first two were locked. The team advised that the various biomes can affect the hospital in different ways. Diseases may spread faster, be harder to cure, and other challenges can arise depending on the location.  With a click on Hogsport, it was time to create my medical malpractice empire!

Two Point Hospital - Let's Play the Alpha [Gaming Trend]

“Patients are reminded not to be sick.”

With a completely empty canvas (other than the exterior walls), the design of Two Point Hospital’s Hogsport branch is entirely mine. By dropping a receptionist’s desk and hiring a receptionist to man it, I got to see the first of many improvements for Two Point Hospital.  No longer having to fit everything in a tiny RAM footprint, there are now female and male nurses, doctors, technicians, janitors, and receptionists — technology has solved the sexism problem. Outside of gender options, there is also an entirely new perk system.

In Theme Hospital, much of the personality of the staff was provided by flavor text (for example, my janitor might “smell faintly of cabbage”).  Here, the perks greatly affect their personality, skills, and their salary asking price. One assistant had Stamina Training (energy drains at a reduced rate, allowing them to work longer before requiring a break), as well as a customer service perk (50% more customer service skill), and Emotional Intelligence (+10% happiness).  He was also asking for a rate twice that of the other two applicants! Wanting my customer fleecing…er…service to be top notch, I opted for the speedier tech that could broom patients in and out the door quickly.

The first step in diagnosing patient illnesses (and charging them for the service) is a General Practitioner’s Office.  Dragging a 5x5 square space (larger and more decorated spaces raise the effectiveness of the staff that use them) onto the hospital floor, I dropped in a desk, chairs, a filing cabinet, trash can, fire extinguisher, and other various items to make the space inviting.  Hiring a general practitioner doctor, I dropped him unceremoniously into his new office and began to work on getting him a few patients to diagnose.

After placing a few uncomfortable (but cheap!) bench seats, wall plaques, as well as a pair of soda and junk food machines (I’m not your nutritionist — those make me money!), my hospital began to see some patients wandering in the door.

Two Point Hospital - Interview with Mark Webley and Gary Carr [Gaming Trend]

“Doctor required in the GP office…”

After an expensive trip to the General Practitioner’s office, our first patient was diagnosed with a condition called “Grout”, and we need to build a pharmacy to treat them. (Grout is frequently transmitted in bathrooms, and modern medication is effective, unlike earlier times, when it had to be dug out painfully with a screwdriver.)  After building the pharmacy, we use something akin to a Slurpee machine to mix up a concoction to cure (and bill) our very first patient. Money in hand, we send em packing and get ready to start attracting more patients as our reputation improved with the successful procedure.

Keeping your staff and patients happy is key to running a successful hospital in the real world, and Two Point Hospital is no different.  Patients get bored, hungry, thirsty, and need to use the bathroom, as does your staff. This means ensuring people have comfortable seating, leaflets to read, access to entertainment, and generally are happy-ish with the experience of gathering in a room full of sick people, only to have their wallet emptied to get cured.  Speaking of being sick, with new diseases on the rise, it’s time to get some backup for our General Practitioner.

A new disease is on the rise – Portishead.

One of the most enduring and endearing parts of Theme Hospital was an unerring willingness to never take anything seriously. The team was already tackling the most boring and somewhat morbid subject, hospitals, and making them hilarious, so why not crank that up to 11?  Just as before, the star of the show is the bizarre diseases and the crazy machines you’ll need to build to cure them. Portishead (This disease affects both body and mind. Once thought to be caused by proximity to sea air, it’s now known to be chiefly caused by living in Portishead.) can be cured with a quick trip to the Nurse Ward (once you build one, of course), but Light Headedness (The patient presents with a very, very bright light bulb in the place of their head.  It’s dreadful.) needs a “Delux Clinic” with specialty equipment to cure. This speciality machine unscrews their lightbulb, 3D prints a new head, and screws that on their shoulders. Another happy patient, once they’ve paid the bill. It’s the sort of sight gag that you have to see, so enjoy a quick snippet of that below:

Two Point Hospital - Curing Light Headedness [Gaming Trend]

While we didn’t get to see a ton of new diseases, there were plenty that had me laughing.  “Verbal Diarrhoea” (The disease people can’t stop talking about – you can hear it for miles), “Misery Guts” (Chronic grumpiness due to a nihilistic colon), “Lycanthropy” (Once thought to be extinct, lycanthropy is making a comeback in dangerous forests across the land. Sufferers get it from direct exposure to light from the full moon, or possibly from door handles. Research is ongoing to discover which) and “Clamp” (Once this grips a patient, it doesn’t let go. It afflicts many living statues and selfie-taking chumps) all require special equipment we’ll have to research to apply a cure.  We’ve also seen “Saturday Night Fever” which will fill your waiting room with Travolta-alikes doing their best dance moves.

“Patients…please be patient”

If you are getting the vibe that this is just a rehash of Theme Hospital, allow me to put your mind at ease.  The team has tackled a lot of quality-of-life issues that were problems in the original. In Theme Hospital, rebuilding a room meant stripping everything out of it and essentially rebuilding it from scratch.  Now, you can simply select the room and clicking the + or – to resize the space. You can even grab it, contents and all, and then move it to another part of the hospital. With a wobbly snap it will spring back into production, ready to accept incoming patients moments later.

The original game was isometric, meaning it was shown from a 3/4 view looking down on the people from a slight angle.  It meant only having to build the art assets from one angle, and much of that game from limitations in computational power and system requirements.  Well, it’s 2018, so the team has freed the camera, allowing full control over the angle of view. Spinning it around, tilting it (pitch), and seeing your hospital from any angle is a game changer, making it far easier to build and populate.

To create a cash-printing medical money making clinic, you’ll need to get into the weeds with your hospital’s finances — the Bank Statement awaits. Filled with charts and graphs around profits, losses, revenue, expenses, and more, they are well presented, colorful, and full of charm, despite their painfully dull content. But you are here to…cure patients!  To help you with that, there is now a full log of patient activities, helping you keep an eye on your clients, as well as diagnosing any long queue lines for your individual clinics, or other hiccups in your hospital.

Your hospitals can become massive and multi-faceted.

Eventually, the staff becomes ready to promote.  Nurse Pete Junk (some of these names are downright eyebrow raising) was ready to head from Nurse to Senior Nurse, which would give her one training slot, 10% improvement to movement speed, diagnostic skill, and treatment skill, and she’d (of course) like a pay raise to go with it.  I have the option, checkbook permitting, to offer her a beefy salary, keep her the same, or anything in between. Maybe she could help keep some of these deadbeats from actually becoming dead. You see, when patients die (and they will), they can come back as ghosts to haunt the hospital.  You’ll need to hire a janitor with the Ghost Capture qualification to dustbust them and put them into containment, lest they roam around the halls and haunt your remaining cashcow patients.

After completing some additional objectives, I noticed that I had racked up some optional currency. Naturally, I unlocked a Sega arcade cabinet, but there are plenty of plants, magazine racks, clocks, and other decorative or functional objects.  Not to worry – there are no microtransactions in play here, it’s all earned in game.

Teaching future doctors how to bill..I mean, CURE patients!

As the dulcet tones of DJ Rickie Hawthorn on Two Point Radio set the tone (very similar to the DJs in The Movies) I began to realize just what the Two Point team had nailed that made all of this come together, even in this early Alpha state — the charm.  Beyond the jokes and sight gags, there is a persistent look and feel that had me grinning like a fool for the entire time I played the game. The entire afternoon zipped by so fast, it was hard to believe that I had been playing the game for a few hours. Every new patient is a wacky and fresh challenge, and the facilities needed to fix them are equally as goofy.  There’s even a golden toilet if you head over to the official website and sign up for updates.

Two Point Hospital feels equal parts reminiscent as it does reinvigorated.   Designing my hospital, training my finicky staff, and expanding my hospital to cure (and bill!) new patients scratches an itch long dormant.  I’m sure there’s a creme for that, but in the meantime, stay tuned for more on the optional leaderboards, a handful of unannounced features, and a spate of new diseases and the crazy ways you’ll cure them.

Two Point Hospital is headed to PC in Fall of 2018.

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